A long time ago one of my doctors I go to for treating my diabetes showed me a chart of the glycemic index, commonly known as GI table. That was when I was naive and adamant about not acknowledging the fact that I was a diabetic. I did not pay much attention to it. As a matter of fact, I felt quite insulted that he would show me such thing as well as a carb counter chart along with the food pyramid. I hated the fact that I was already counted as a diabetic. It made me feel like I was somehow supposed to be ashamed of the fact. It made me feel depressed that I was stuck forever with this disease and I was never going to be a normal person like everybody else.
As time went by and I learned my lessons through complications arisen from being a diabetic with poor control, I started to read more books and gather information about diabetes and the control factors. I took a clinical nutrition class in search of my answers regarding different foods and their effects on diabetes.
Glycemic index (GI) is a measure of the rate at which different foods are converted in our body and their effects on our blood sugar. It gives values to different foods according to their ability to raise blood sugar in our bodies. The rate at which our body converts any food into sugar depends on the food itself. Complex carbohydrates take time to be absorbed in our bodies and affect the blood sugars whereas simple sugars or carbs dump sugars at a faster rate into the blood, thus raising or spiking the blood sugar. A constant diet of starches and sugar products keep the blood sugar numbers spiking higher, eventually leading to insulin resistance in the body which leads to other complications.
Even though we keep up with a diet that contains low carbs and more fiber depending on the ingredients and other food combinations, we might not be getting all the benefits of having such good foods. So the key is to mix and match the foods according to their starch content. Most processed foods contain high carbs and faster rates of dumping sugars in our bodies. A balanced blood sugar can be attained by eating certain foods in predetermined quantities so the sugars do not rise up rapidly, thus preventing long term effects with diabetes or insulin resistance.
Glycemic index is measured as follows:
Low GI -- 55 or less
Moderate GI -- 56-69
High GI -- 70 or above
Most of the time a person's glycemic index does not only depend on the quality of the foods they eat but the quantity of foods they eat. Just because someone eats fiber food like brown rice or whole wheat pasta it does not mean they are safe from spiking of the blood sugars if they eat two cups rather than the predetermined amount according to GI or carb counters. A person's GI depends on not only the quality but also quantity, their body condition, their ability to digest different foods, their body's metabolic rate and the combination of foods.
Women are more prone to eating high glycemic food due to the hormonal imbalances especially during and around menstrual cycles, peri-menopausal or menopausal stages. They are also the periods of emotional ups and downs in most women. Depression usually is a common condition for most women to reach out for high carb foods or simple starch foods. Foods with high starch content work as aphrodisiacs or comfort food for most women.
Since we cannot calculate the number of carbs by themselves without their combination foods and tell which glycemic index they fall under a new method has been developed called glycemic load (GL). Glycemic load accounts for the amount of food consumed along with the combinations that are used with that particular food product. Glycemic load is calculated as follows:
GL = GI of a food
---------------- X Grams of Carbs/serving
Here are some examples of foods with different glycemic indexes:
Low GI foods: barley, black beans, broccoli, cashews, cherries, chick peas, leafy vegetables, lentils, peanuts, tomatoes, strawberries and plain yogurt
Low to Moderate GI foods: apples, brown rice, grapes, carrots, honey, oranges, potato chips
Moderate to High GI foods: bananas, mangoes, potatoes, white rice, raisins, shredded wheat.
High GI foods: bagels, donuts, cakes, Cheerios, dates, Cornflakes, pies, pretzels, white bread.
The most important lesson I have learned over the years is that not all food that is characterized as bad food is all bad and not all food that is said to be great is all good. The key is balancing the intake, knowing what to eat, in which combination to eat and how much to eat. It is hard to always count the calories or carbs or calculate GL or figure out GI all the time we eat foods. I can't imagine myself pulling out a carb counter or a calculator while I am attending a big wedding party or a family reunion. So using a little bit of common sense and wise decisions to pick and choose a variety of foods that have low glycemic index goes a long way. The rule of thumb I follow is this: the more processed the food is the more my sugar levels will spike. Diabetics like me should keep this rule in mind at all times because OUR LIFE MATTERS.
Reviewed July 14, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Alison Stanton